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The concept of “Home” has been a prevalent one throughout this fellowship. Leaving the comfort of home to make a new home in Alameda and at work was something I knew I’d signed up for this summer, but the action of doing so is much easier said than done. Micah has stretched me to think about what truly makes a home. There’s consideration of the people who live in the home, fairness and respectability, quiet time, community and collaboration, safety, and more. I haven’t had to create “home” just in Alameda Point, but at work as well. Sure enough, there have been great moments of discomfort, happiness, tears, frustration, confusion, sadness, celebration, and joy. I’ve learned that creating “home” is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary.

Just this past Tuesday, an arrest was made in the building next door to our home. The setting was a mixture of happenings- tears, variety of police cars, young children playing and laughing, observant neighbors, non-observant neighbors, and more. From what we saw, a mother was arrested- our neighbor was arrested. Her younger children showed their frustration as they cried and punched, while her older children instinctively took on their new roles of caretakers as they comforted their younger siblings. We, as a house, don’t know exactly what happened in case of the arrest. Nonetheless, we felt it. We felt both the sadness from the family and the normality of it all from the neighborhood. I remember looking up from where we were respectfully watching, and saw tears coming down Lauren’s face. We saw a mother being taken away from her children. It sounds so simple, but it’s really hard to put in words. And literally, it hit so close to home.

Home has proven to be no easy subject. In the same way, home has proven to be the safest, most precious aspect of learning, challenge, community, and self reflection for myself. Alameda Point is home. West Oakland is home. My community is home. Yet, it’s been important for me to recognize that my home impacts and is impacted by the home of others. Seeing the arrest really saddened me, for, I am now connected to this community and don’t wish that upon it. Still, I am aware of the nature of my community as well.

With only two and a half weeks left, I really don’t know what to feel. Leaving home will be hard and exciting as I embark on my senior year. Overall, I really cannot express how thankful I am for my new homes and the lessons I’ve learned from them.

Here are some pictures:

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Alameda Point Antique Fair

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July First Friday

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Hello Kitty on our morning drive to work

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Beautiful park

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Peralta St.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in 2014 Ariana Alvarez

 

Time flies, but Memories stay forever.

I remember one week into the program, I thought to myself—Wow, I’m going to be away for a big chunk of my Summer. I wouldn’t be able to visit my family or friends whenever I wanted because my schedules were so packed. This program has given me an experience that I would have never expected. I have been pushed completely out of my comfort zone as living in community with others has been my greatest challenge here. I am very selective when it comes to friendships and people I can trust enough to confide in. Growing up, I have had only one person I can come to about anything, and that is my best friend who I’ve known since the 4th grade. My parents were not around much, and my brother and I did not have as strong of a relationship until my middle school years. For the past 21 years of my life, I barely had my home full with the three other members of my family. Living with 5 other people, where privacy was more on the difficult end, was a big adjustment that I never thought I would struggle with before the program. I have been completely out of my comfort zone, but I am grateful to have had the experience where I was safe in being uncomfortable. The safe space and brave space that has been created between the Micah fellows has helped me focus more about my own growth and the why rather than putting my attention on the what.

As there are only 18 more days left in this program, I am beginning to feel a bit of sadness, but I also have this drive to do absolutely everything in my capacity to set the bar high. St. Mary’s Center has taken me in as their “baby” meanwhile SMC has become my baby too. Moving forward, I wish and hope for nothing less than the best for them, and I’m excited that CILSA has their partnership with them. I remember talking to my supervisor, Karla, about SMC and her telling me that over the program, I will experience tears, joy, but also commitment. She warned me that I will be attached to the clients, but she forgot to mention that I would be attached to my co-workers, too. I have been so honored to be welcomed into the St. Mary’s Center family and to have form friendships and trust with the people I work with. I have gained so much from every co-worker, and I have learned even more from my conversations with the clients. Everything about St. Mary’s Center, from the staff to the clients, will always be in a special place in my heart. With only 2.5 more weeks left, I need to take advantage of my time to get tasks done, but to also strengthen my connections and to continue to create new ones.

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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in 2014 Rachel Gacerez

 

Wearing Many Faces

After reading Parker Palmer’s “Now I Become Myself” taken from Let your Life Speak I realized something about my past five weeks of service at St. Anthony’s. After my first week of service I was exhausted and upset and deeply saddened, very different from my happy and animated usual self. I thought it was just because I had not acclimated to a new home and workplace, but after five weeks I haven’t felt any different. I kept thinking that I didn’t feel like myself. Then I read the following lines from Mary Sarton’s poem that open Palmer’s text: “I have been dissolved and shaken,/ Worn other people’s faces” (9). This sentence aptly describes my experience at St. Anthony’s thus far. Palmer’s text made me realize that my role at St. Anthony’s has caused me to wear faces that are completely unlike who I usually am. I think of myself as an empathetic person who is hypersensitive to the feelings of the people around me. As a result, I can easily take on the emotions of those I encounter, whether those feelings are of happiness or anger or pain. I came to St. Anthony’s with my heart open to the people I serve, and in doing so I have felt my own usually self become “dissolved and shaken” as Sarton describes. From the people I have met and the stories I have heard I have experienced their trauma secondhand. I feel like I have put on the faces of several of the people I have met and have glimpsed the ways in which they see the world. It has left my heart strained and stretched who I am in ways that are at times very painful.
In light of Palmer’s reading I have realized that my vocation is not in direct service, a realization that is both disappointing and relieving. I am disappointed that I am not meant to serve in a direct capacity, but I am also relieved to learn why I have felt so unlike myself and that it is normal. I have realized that a big part of my service is in my empathy for others and my ability to listen and relieve others by sharing their pain with them without internalizing it in myself. It’s by taking what I see and hear and feel and using it to speak for the people I serve when society chooses to ignore them. I can be who I really am by offering to listen.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2014 in 2014 Kaitlin Roth

 

Faith

I have always had a strong connection to my faith. Of course, as a teenager I went through the all typical rebellious phase of distancing myself completely from my faith. Yet, as I continue in life, faith has proven to be the core to all that keeps me level-headed, reflective, sincere, genuine, patient, and more.

Micah has challenged me in a way that I did not expect in its impact on my faith. In all honesty, initially I lost sight of the benefits I get from constant faithful practice- whether it be praying, attending mass, reading religious text, sitting in silence, etc. In the newness of it all, I got distracted. Now that the halfway point has passed, my mind has been cleared to the realization of how critical an active, faithful life is to me and my well-being. In other words, through moments of confusion, distress, frustration, impatience, and even in moments of happiness, laughter, and love- I’ve been reminded of how important a presence of faith and religious practice is.

Every person I have encountered throughout this journey has been a symbol of how important it is to never lose faith. For, in moments when one loses faith, having someone come in and respectfully guide you back is so precious. It’s something that I’ve discovered society is lacking in. There’s a need for solidarity of hope and faith. I’ve found a need for it both within and outside of my community this summer. It’s a difficult question to ask and take on- how do we genuinely restore faith and hope in people? I ask it to myself daily, and I still can’t give a well formulated answer, and I think that’s okay. It’ll be a lifelong process that I have to embrace- both with the highs and lows. All I know is that I see beauty in my surroundings this summer- all of them- it’s just a constant grasp that I need to have onto my faith to help me through all the details that make up that beauty. Especially in times when that beauty is hard to find.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2014 in 2014 Ariana Alvarez

 

The Value of Social Justice

One of the five values of the Micah Summer Fellowship is social justice. The aim of this value is that “through service and reflection on lived experiences, Micah Fellows will examine the causes of oppression and look for ways to bring about justice in our world”. During the program I have had the opportunity to work for a non-profit who fights for social justice and had meaningful conversations with the Stardust team about social justice. Not only that, this program has instilled a lifelong passion in me for social justice action. This is the value of the program that I feel most connected with and that I have learned the most about and that has changed the most for me.

I am incredibly grateful for my experience this summer because I have been able to learn so much and engage in social justice action and discussion more so than I ever have before. Too often my discussions with others at school about social justice issues have been brushed off as too depressing and too complicated to continue a meaningful conversation. This, in a way, limited my involvement in social justice up until this point because I didn’t have the right allies to work alongside. Our discussions during the fellowship about social justice and oppression during the fellowship become frustrating as we immerse ourselves in a topic that has no easy answer. However, our conversations contained an element that was new for me. This struggle, instead of defeating me, inspires me more to fight harder and I have become swept up in my own passion and the passion of others around me to continue the social justice fight. Immersing ourselves in the communities we are surrounded by has given an all too real face to the injustice of homelessness which makes it hard to turn away from the work no matter how much of an uphill battle we face. The combination of working with the theoretical (reading about social justice) and the actual (working with our non-profits) has given me a new perspective on social justice and how we can work towards equality for poverty and homelessness.

Our readings have been a very stimulating and thought provoking part of the fellowship for me. Being able to connect these readings to what I am experiencing everyday makes the messages of the readings more transparent. They have helped me look at other avenues of bringing social justice to the forefront of policy making and society’s mind. They have truly made me think about the root causes of injustices like poverty. The reading I connect with the most is The Rich and the Rest of Us because it really highlights how poverty is a social justice issue and highlights the complex issues that cause poverty in the United States. Not only is there the economic inequality but the social stigma of poverty that needs to be addressed in order to create permanent change. Social justice action is still a very daunting concept for me, but I no longer feel like it is out of my hands or out of the hands of anyone who has the passion for justice.

The self-reflection aspect of the fellowship has made me ponder my own role in fighting for social justice, not just during this program but in the long run. Playing a role in social justice action has become a tangible thing for me as I have worked with APC and gained new knowledge about social justice action through the readings in this program. My role may be small and the pace of change toward fixing injustice may be slow, but I fell that it is worthwhile and the transforming feeling that this action provides will continue to fuel my passion for social justice action. Having been transformed through my service and reflection during this time, I am unable to shy away from action in the future.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2014 in 2014 Lauren Lorge

 

Coincidences/Perfect Timing

This assignment could not have been at a more perfect time. Today at work, I was waiting in the lobby to shadow a case manager, and there was a woman who I have recognized at St. Mary’s Center events. I was finally able to talk to her, and she was so positive and open. Our conversation related a lot to the “Now I Become Myself” article by Parker Palmer. This article talked a lot about one’s vocation or calling and how it was destined/given to us. Personally, I’m still struggling with this idea. It is hard for me to believe that there is a predetermined outcome for everyone, and if we don’t reach it, it is because we are not accepting our true self.

When I saw the woman in the lobby, I engaged in some casual conversations about her life, what brought us to St. Mary’s Center, and what future plans one has. She opened up to me saying that she was referred to St. Mary’s Center by her younger sister. She expressed that she got into some trouble and said, “I just was not myself anymore.” This woman talked about how she made poor choices in her past which accumulated over time in order for her to do something more for herself. She said that “St. Mary’s helped her find (her name here).” We talked about how we need to get through the bad to truly recognize our worth. Pasts are never something we should regret, because they were vital for us becoming who we are today. Now, she is planning to write a book about her upbringing in the south up to her present day.

While reading the article, I had a few thoughts/questions for myself… The article said that families, schools, work, and religions are created to pull us away from our “true self,” but I feel like these institutions help us create our true self, which is why I have a hard time believing that we are born with a certain identity or even this template that we are constantly trying to fit throughout our lives. I feel like there is so many factors in our lives that have a huge impact in the different decisions and routes, and that one is not necessarily better than another, right or wrong. I like the quote on p.9 that says:
Now I become myself
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s face…
This quote acknowledges that it takes a lot of learning and reflection in order to truly become you. Each person’s path of life is not linear or perfect, but I struggle with this article because it says that our life journey is to find out who we are made to be rather than to find out who we are becoming.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2014 in 2014 Rachel Gacerez

 

Thirty-two days later…

Firstly, dear reader, I would like to apologize for the belatedness of this post by five days. The reasons behind this delay are varied and profound. I hope to write in more detail about said reasons in the blog entry that I will be posting by Thursday night (July 3rd). As for today, I will be writing to you about where I have gone and how far I have come while engaging in community service during the past four weeks I have been offering advocacy and assistance to drop-in clients I’ve seen and met with at the General Assistance Advocacy Project in the Tenderloin.

The primary question I aim to address in this post is as follows: “In the four weeks that I’ve been at GAAP, what have I learned, how have I been of service to others, and what impact have I made?

Oh, dear reader…the answer to this three-part question seems endless in my mind. My internship at the General Assistance Advocacy Project has been one of the most perspective-shifting, stress-inducing, and grief-evoking processes of all time. I truly cannot explain with words the amount of weight I feel in the turquoise blue room of the General Assistance Advocacy Project every time I sit down with a client who has dropped in for advice, referrals, information, or advocacy. This work is tedious. This work takes a toll that is so incredibly heavy in mind and spirit that I do not think I will truly know the greater meaning in all of this until I look back at it several months to a year from now and realize the impact I made. This summer’s advocacy service work is one of those kinds of experiences…

I am constantly working hour to hour every day that I am in the office at GAAP. Offering Direct Services to low-income folks who may or may not be homeless in San Francisco is stressful. When they talk to me, I can energetically feel their burdens to the point where I feel angered and bewildered for them. Truthfully, the amount of anguish I feel on their behalf is astonishing. The toll that is taken upon the poor and/or homeless is treacherous, hideous, and mind-boggling. It is no wonder that the circumstances imposed upon the poor can trigger mental illness and a deterioration of psyche. The taxation that is experienced in their lives is devastating. The anxiety, depression, helplessness, anguish, anger, fear, astonishment, disbelief, frustration, and tumult that my clients experience day in and day out is heartbreaking to see, to hear, to write, and reiterate as I offer my services in order to help them better navigate the bureaucracy of the San Francisco County Public Benefits system. As a highly sensitive person, it is difficult for me to process all of this.

This difficulty extends from there to the point where I feel like legislation and county policy are so complicated and so filled with requirements, expectations, and deadlines, that it is exhausting to try and feel like I’ve made a difference in someone’s life in only a day. To be honest, I wish I could feel like I’m doing more for people. I wish I could feel as though I’m making swift and steady progress for each individual I see; however many times I see them. However, with the plutocratic system of control that wraps around every Cash-Aid benefits program in place (no matter what county), it feels as though I can only assuage my clients’ pain with a meager (figurative) Band Aid that will only wear off over time. I don’t cure the source of their pain. I don’t heal the main problem. I feel as though my work at GAAP is not immediately attacking the roots of an unjust system that I despise so deeply. So, to answer the question of “what have I learned thus far while at GAAP?” – I can honestly say that change takes time. Policy change, in particular, moves at a snail’s pace or slower. Why? Because those in power do not want to lose their privilege. They do not want to see their advantages over others slip and become devalued. They do not want to see equality among themselves and the masses, simply for the fact that it will bring them down from the pedestal they’ve raised themselves so high upon—and only for the purposes of overlooking, evaluating, and judging those who suffer beneath them. Of course, suffering is scary. There’s no denying that. What is astonishing is the level of denial that takes place in the minds of the fiscally privileged today.  The level of denial that is maintained in their minds serves as metaphorical ‘blinders’ that keep them from seeing the collective harm that is done as a result of monetary greed and inequality.

The second question I aim to respond to is: “What do you want to learn in the coming weeks?” In the context of what I desire to learn at GAAP, specifically, in the coming weeks, I hope to become more knowledgeable around issues that pertain to public transportation and transit injustice as it exists in the city and county of San Francisco. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I will be putting together and helping to host a workshop aimed to help low-income folks appeal Muni Fare Evasion citations. I want to become more well-versed in public transportation policy so that the workshop I prepare and organize will be as productive and beneficial as possible for those who attend.

Because many of GAAP’s clients cannot afford public transportation, it is essential that this workshop be centered on ways that our clients (as well as other low income folk) can strategically object to, and fight back against, fare evasion citations.  The workshop will give them instructions on how to effectively write appeal letters to the county, as well as providing a space within which low-income individuals can voice their concerns around MUNI and San Francisco public transportation.

Additionally, we would like to pursue policy change within the actual SFMTA. In the short term, we are hoping to leverage enough community members and government actors to pressure the SFMTA into expanding the MUNI Lifeline Program (which offers slightly reduced riding fees for low-income individuals who qualify for the program). Long term, we would like to see changes in the regulations, the enforcement, and the adjudication of SFMTA citations.

Apart from this workshop, I hope to learn how to become more confident and positive in my outlook with regard to how I am helping clients day-to-day who come into GAAP for Direct Services regarding the aid that they are receiving (or wish to receive) from the San Francisco public benefits programs, CalFresh (food stamps), Medi-Cal, shelter and affordable housing, SSI/SSDI, unemployment, or job-search related matters. It has been an incredibly difficult process learning how to deal with all of the feelings that I have gathered around the extreme inequality experienced at the hands of the poor and homeless. It is a lot to carry on mental, emotional, and physical levels—and something that I expect to be processing out for a long time to come.

The third and final question I aim to address within this post is: “What steps can you take to pursue these learning goals?” Well—I believe that putting together an agenda that details how I will go about making sure my organizing is timely and well thought-out for the public transportation and transit justice workshop is important. Acquiring appropriate reading materials on the SFMTA policies is an important piece to reaching my goals as well. Consistently checking in with my supervisor and executive director is also crucial to making sure I am navigating everything efficiently.

With regard to how I can become more confident and positive in my outlook in terms of how much I am helping to serve people who I interact with—I believe making sure I take good care of myself is important. Learning how to come home and engage in practices of self-love, laughter, and methods of self-comfort is absolutely critical to my maintaining a positive headspace. I have been so blessed to be around my five other wonderful Micah Fellows who support and encourage me in my work and life pursuits every day. Without them, I would not be as ‘together’ as I am right now while writing this post. They make sure the best parts of me shine through at the end of the day whenever we get around to checking in with one another.

Their smiles and hugs bring out the love that is always inside of me as a person who is devoted to social justice and activism. They ensure that I never lose sight of my dreams and the innate nature of my soul as a person who cares on profoundly deep levels about improving the life-quality of all those who are oppressed and marginalized in contemporary society. My voice and spirit gains strength through their love and encouragement, and I know I am never lost when I come home to the beautiful souls of Lauren, Kaitlin, Ari, Rachel, and Emily.